AAASE Distinguished Lecture

10AM-11AM, June 26 (Wed), 2023

Place: Maeder Hall Auditorium, Princeton University 


 Engineering a drug discovery platform: Made possible by international brain power

 Speaker: Krystyn Van Vliet

Vice President for Research and Innovation, Cornell University  


Our brains are complex and vital organs at the core of our cognitive thought and independent movement. Our brains are also optically scattering and squishy materials that hold close the secrets of daily operation, recovery from injury, and degradation upon aging. Many neurodegenerative diseases have no current cure and few available treatments, in part due to limited understanding of complex processes such as how key cells in the brain wrap and insulate the long spans of our nerve cells (neuronal axons), called myelination. Failure of this process occurs in intractable diseases such as multiple sclerosis and in the aging brain. This inherently three-dimensional (3D) process has been difficult to observe in real-time or replicate in the lab, especially given the micrometer-scale diameter and kilopascal-scale stiffness of neuronal axons. Here we discuss the scientific findings of how those myelinating cells are mechanosensitive, and how we used that knowledge to invent and translate 3D-printed artificial axons that allow us to visualize the axon wrapping and compare drug responses quantitatively. Through my research group’s years of study on this challenging and interdisciplinary problem, I was the only key member of the research team who was born and raised in the US. The varied perspectives, expertise, and ambition of the international research team who came to work in my group at MIT from all over the world, or to collaborate through programs designed to stimulate interdisciplinary and international research collaborations, were vital to the pace and quality of our research outcomes and translation to market.

Biography: Krystyn J. Van Vliet serves as Cornell's Vice President for Research and Innovation. Her team connects the collaborative research communities at Cornell University's Ithaca, Cornell Tech, and Weill Cornell Medicine campuses with external funding, partnerships, and translation of research outcomes to societal impact. Prior to joining Cornell in 2023, Van Vliet led MIT's Office for Strategic Alliances and Technology Transfer and research-related administration, as well as campus space planning. As faculty in materials science and biomedical engineering with expertise in the interplay between mechanical deformation and local chemistry, Van Vliet has led international research teams focused on interdisciplinary topics ranging from materials for energy storage to technologies for cell therapy manufacturing. She has also helped to catalyze national and regional manufacturing innovation and workforce development efforts, including public-private partnerships to strengthen biopharma manufacturing. Van Vliet has authored over 200 research articles and 10 patents, and is scientific founder of Artificial Axon Labs, a company developing 3D-printed platforms to discover medicines for neurodegenerative diseases. A recipient of the Bose Award for Excellence in Teaching, Van Vliet led co-development of the publicly available edX course, Making a Cell Therapy: Principles and Practices of Manufacturing.


Moderator: Chair and Professor of Department of Chemistry, School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University

Moderator: Anna Samia, Chair and Professor of Department of Chemistry, School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University

Co-Sponsors: Princeton Asian-American Students Association; Princeton Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering